Friday, August 14, 2009

(I'm on a) Newbery Foray

(sung to the tune of Raspberry Beret)

Now that I'm sure you're tired of hearing about my vacation that took place almost a month ago, I guess I could blog about something more contemporary. I've been keeping plenty busy, and will be going camping (again!) tonight. Went boating Saturday last week and Monday night this week (an interesting excursion including pirates!) . Saw Iron Man on the lawn of the capitol Wednesday, and Tuesday night I went to a friend's party and then another friend's soccer match.

Anyhow, last night I made a trip to the library with a friend and, among other things, we stumbled across a shelf of Newbery Medal winners in the children's section, and we started talking about reading all the Newbery Medal winners. Seems doable, right? Though maybe not as easy as reading all the Caldecott Medal winners, am I right? :)

I'm guessing they're all relatively available, and for the most part they should be fairly easy reading, right? Anyway, we grabbed two -- The Voyages of Dr. Doolittle, which was the oldest one we could find, the 2nd ever winner in 1923; and Dear Mr. Henshaw from 1984, because it looked like fairly light reading -- to get started with. Guess we'll see how it goes. Some I've ready before, including this Dr. Doolittle book, others not so much. It appeals to the completist in me.

Oh, and yes, I'm still dragging my way through speech after (truly enjoyable, but not really capturing my imagination) speech in Atlas Shrugged, waiting for the pace to pick up. Given that I'm halfway through the book, somehow I'm guessing Ayn Rand isn't going to switch to "show don't tell" after how far we've already come with the "show AND tell and then tell several more times" method. :) Not giving up. Maybe I just need to set aside more reading time, instead of playing Bioshock when I find a spare moment.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Yellowstone Follow-up Mosaic!

I'm sure you've realized that I don't do a great job taking photos of people on my trips, mostly of scenery. Anyway, I put together this mosaic of people photos from the Yellowstone trip from the photos of my friends (Alicia and Kelly, maybe one from Kellen), so you can at least realize that it wasn't just me and the waterfalls out there.

Yellowstone Friends Mosaic

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Week o' Vacationing 2009: Day 10

Finally, we've come to the end of my July 2009 Week 'o Vacationing. Somehow I suspect that the actual vacation was more fun for me than reading about it has been for you, but it looks like some of you are still stopping by to read.

On the morning of our last day in Yellowstone, I woke up early, 6 or so, to use the bathroom (I can never sleep in too late while camping), and since I was already up, I decided to go for a walk and check out our surroundings. I knew there was a river near where we were camped, so I walked over there to check things out.

Dawn over the Madison River
Dawn over the Madison River

Madison River at Dawn
Looking downstream

After taking a few shots of the sun coming up over the river, I looked downstream a way and saw some dark shapes that I figured must be elk, so I decided to walk down there and check things out. Turns out there were 10-15 elk there (all cows as far as I could tell) eating breakfast. I sat and watched them for half an hour or so and then headed back to camp.

Elk feeding at dawn
Elk at Dawn

We didn't make a fire that morning, so it was fairly chilly while we sat and waited for the sun to come up. For breakfast we just ate muffins and bagels. Then we packed up our gear and headed for home. Cara's mom was nice enough to have us over for lunch in Chubbock in the middle of our journey, and we made it home mid-afternoon. And I was back home and back to work the next morning.

Definitely a fun set of vacations. Several firsts (Yellowstone, Tuacahn, Alpine Coaster), good times with friends and family alike. And amazingly, I still have one more vacation left to take this summer. In 2 weeks (12 days actually), I'll be going on a cruise (another first) to the Bahamas with my roommates and some other friends (many of whom were on the St. George trip).

Monday, August 10, 2009

Week o' Vacationing 2009: Day 9

Back from a nice busy weekend (a date, ward boating activity, family reunion, sister's musical) and ready to finish off this travelogue of my vacations that ended now 2 full weeks ago.

Our 2nd day in Yellowstone was packed with stuff, and lots of photos, so this might be the longest post of the whole week's worth of vacationing. Pace yourself. :)

We started off with a delicious breakfast of pancakes, bacon, and eggs cooked on Jason's campstove. After breakfast, we made some sack lunches, packed up camp and headed on our way for a 2nd day of Yellowstone awesomeness. Our main goal for the day was to drive north on the lower loop and check out the Upper and Lower Falls along Yellowstone River, so we headed up that way.

Serendipitously we found a variety of other fun things to check out along the way. On the map, we saw something called "Mud Volcano", and when we got there, we decided to stop and check it out. It actually turned out to be more than just the Mud Volcano, which was basically a lake of bubbling mud. In addition, there was also the Dragon's Mouth Spring, Sour Lake, the Churning Cauldron, and a couple other bubbling, smelly lakes. And let me just say that they were indeed smelly. Like rotten egg smelly. Really rotten. Kind of overpowering at times. Probably the coolest was the Dragon's Mouth Spring which was a cave where water came out in waves, and steam was constantly rising, and there was a constant stream of booming noises coming from the cave. I have to wonder what people thought about these things when they were first discovered, before there was a wooden walkway going up to it with signs and everything. Amazing stuff.

Mud Volcano
The Mud Volcano

Dragon's Mouth Spring
Dragon's Mouth Spring

After walking around the Mud Volcano area, we crossed to road and walked down to the river to check that out. Nothing too noteworthy other than simply being very picturesque.

Yellowstone River
Yellowstone River

We got back on the road headed north, and as we entered the Hayden Valley, we had the chance to see a few more bison up close to the road. We pulled over to look at one of them a little closer.

Buffalo & Murano
Pulling over to check out a buffalo

The funny thing is how excited we were about seeing a single buffalo, when waiting for us just around the bend was a gigantic herd of them. There were probably hundreds of buffalo in this valley. Maybe thousands, but of what we saw, I'm sure there were at least 100 head. A little further up the road, we reached a point where a large group was crossing the road, so as traffic was stopped we got a good look at them and were able to take some photos and video. One of the highlights of the trip for me.

Moving on from our buffalo crossing experience, we finally were nearing the waterfalls we'd planned to check out. Our first stop was the brink of the upper falls, which was just a short walk down from a parking lot. One thing that I personally enjoyed about Yellowstone was how accessible many of the things were. I understand that it might be more enjoyable without eighty other people there, but especially this day, I was struck by how much you could see in a single day without needing to hike 3 hours each way.

Just above Upper Falls
Looking upstream from the Upper Falls

After checking out the upper falls, Jason suggested we backtrack just a tad to a spot on the other side of the river where we could hike down and see the falls from below, called Uncle Tom's Point. It was just a quick drive over there, but unfortunately the trail down to the viewing spot was closed for repairs, so we had to settle for a view of the falls from across the river, but not down low like we'd hoped.

Upper Falls, from Uncle Tom's Point trailhead
Looking back across at the Upper Falls. If you look close you can see people at the viewing platform.

Then it was back across the bridge and further downstream in search of the lower falls. The hike down to the brink of the lower falls was quite a bit longer than the hike down to the brink of the upper falls, but still only 10 to 15 minutes (and of course a bit longer going back up those switchbacks). Along the way down, there was a look out spot to look down the canyon. I stopped to take a gander and was stunned by the beauty of the canyon. The colors of the canyon walls were just surreal (I realized after coming home that this must be why it's called Yellowstone), and the river running down the middle looked like a painting. Just gorgeous. There were better views further down, but this was my first glimpse and it really was awe-inspiring.

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, from Lower Falls brink
Looking down at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone from the Lower Falls brink

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, from Lower Falls brink

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, from Lower Falls brink
See? I was there!

Lower Falls
The actual falls themselves

We took our time enjoying the view of the falls from above, and then made the hike back up to the parking lot. From there, we headed further downstream to another lookout spot to look back the lower falls. There was a nice view near the parking lot, but most of us also chose to take a longer hike down to the Red Rock viewing platform where the view of the falls was even better.

Lower Falls, from downstream viewpoint
Looking back upstream at Lower Falls. Down below you can see the Red Rock viewing platform.

Lower Falls, from Red Rock
The view from Red Rock

After taking more photos down there, we made our way back up again, and regrouped at the cars to decide on our next step. We decided it was probably time for lunch and that we'd stop at the next picnic area we came to.

After a short drive, we found a picnic area where we relaxed and ate our lunch while planning our next move. We'd talked about going north and going around the northern loop and maybe seeing Tower Falls and Mammoth Hot Springs, but given that the weather was looking a little stormy, and that we'd already seen some very impressive waterfalls already, we decided to skip the northern loop and cut across the middle of the park, and head toward our campsite for the night.

First, though, we stopped at a visitors center near the intersection of the highways to see what it had to offer. Mostly I was happy to find that it offered a couch I could sit on for a bit. :)

After resting up a bit, and having a bit of rain, we hit the road again, heading west across the park toward Madison. Along our way, we stopped at the Norris Geyser basin, to see what non-Old Faithful geysers look like. The first thing we went to check out there was the Porcelain Basin. The view was quite extraordinary. Something scorched earth post-apocalyptic perhaps, or maybe just alien. We walked along the rim for a while, then headed back to where we'd started to go another direction and check out Steamboat Geyser.

Porcelain Basin
Porcelain Basin

Porcelain Basin
Porcelain Basin

Steamboat Geyser apparently has had some of the largest eruptions recorded in the park, but they are far from predictable, and the last big event occurred a long time ago (I forget whether it was 7 years or 50 years, or something else. Just that it wasn't something to hold your breath for.) Despite not being spectacularly impressive, there were minor spurts of water and steam every few minutes, and it was a nice supplement to the previous day's experience at Old Faithful. And perhaps made me appreciate both the regularity and magnitude of Old Faithful by comparison. I'm sure there are other possibilities along the Geyser spectrum, but those are the only two I've really seen so far. :)

Steamboat Geyser

After enjoying the Norris Geyser Basin, we hopped back in our vehicles and headed south for Madison. All weekend, we'd been seeing signs letting us know that there would be delays on this stretch of highway due to construction, but when we got to the construction, we only waited a minute or two. Then a few miles down the road, traffic bogged down again, and we figured it must be the rest of the construction. Not so. In fact, it was due to a small group of bison who decided to stop in the middle of the road and just hang out while cars slowly trickled past them on the other side of the highway.

Bovine Road Block
Bovine Road Block

After getting past this bovine roadblock, we quickly arrived at the Madison campground area. We set up camp and set about chopping some deadfall for firewood. The weather was still pretty overcast and a little rainy. Then a park ranger pulled up in his golf cart to inform us that a big storm -- "40 mph wind and an inch of rain" -- was an hour away. So we scrambled to make sure that all of our belongings were secured and covered, then hustled to get dinner ready (beef stew warmed up over the fire) before the storm hit. Then, the storm never actually materialized. Given my history of bad luck with camping weather, I told Kelly it must have been his good camping luck overpowering my bad camping luck.

Kelly chopping some wood

Once it was clear that no storm was coming, we played some Phase 10, and then hung out around the fire until fairly late.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Week o' Vacationing 2009: Day 8

I've really got to get the last of these vacations blogged up before I've forgotten all about them...things have just been crazy all week long. I feel like I haven't hardly had time to just sit down this entire week, except when I was at work. And the busy times look to continue until at least Sunday evening. Maybe beyond. When did things get so crazy?

Anyway, our Yellowstone camping excursion began on the morning of Friday the 24th (yay for Pioneer Day!), we got up fairly bright and early, and Kellen and I drove over to Alicia's to help load up the vehicles. Thankfully, Jason was able to borrow his dad's truck or else we would never have had sufficient space to pack everything in. Eventually, we were all packed up and ready to go.

We drove north through Idaho (only my 3rd time in Idaho) up to West Yellowstone (my very 1st time in Montana) where we got lunch and then ventured into the park.

West entrance to park
No one I know, just took a picture of the entrance as we drove in.

Mere moments in, we caught our first sight of nature on display, a bald eagle nested quite near the road. The nice thing about Yellowstone is that if there's anything of interest along the way, you can count on other drivers to pull over and look at it. Makes it easy to know where to look. We also saw our first buffalo not too much further down the road. At the time, quite a novelty. By the end of the week, we'd have seen plenty of these guys.

Bald Eagle
Our national bird, in our national park.

First buffalo

Our first stop of the day was Old Faithful, but before getting there, we got to drive past a variety of geothermal features that I was honestly a little bummed we didn't stop to check out. Just seeing steam coming out of the ground is pretty cool if you ask me. Upon arriving at Old Faithful, a sign informed us we had about 45 minute until the next geyser ought to be arriving. We were able to get decent seats and then took turns watching them while people wandered around various gift shops and ice cream vendors.

Old Faithful
What it looks like when it's not being faithful

Kelly waiting for Old Faithful
Kelly and Kellen eating their ice cream

When it was finally time, I have to say I was impressed. A giant spout of hot water coming out of the ground at regular intervals. I can understand why this is part of our first national park. And no, I'm not being sarcastic. I was really impressed.

Old Faithful
Getting started

Old Faithful
Full steam ahead

After checking Old Faithful off the list, Alicia had a hike planned for us. We headed south to the bottom of the loop and then went a smidge further south to the Riddle Lake trailhead. The hike was a fairly mild walk (very little ups or down) that lasted maybe 45 minutes each way. The lake itself was fairly deserted, we only saw maybe 5 other people during the whole journey. The lake was fairly uninteresting if you ask me, but it was nice to be out enjoying nature. We even heard some wolves howling in the distance.

Hiking to Riddle Lake
On our way to Riddle Lake

Riddle Lake
At Riddle Lake

Hiking back to the road

After our hike, it was time to head to our campsite for the night. We had a reservation at Bridge Bay, near Fishing Bridge by Yellowstone Lake. We got checked in, set up camp, and got to work cooking tin fiol dinners in the coals of our campfire. Dinner was delicious, and we had a good time hanging out around the fire until it was time to retire.


Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Week o' Vacationing 2009: Day 7

Day 7 of my Week o' Vacationing did not actually contain any vacation, oddly enough. I went in to work and put in my 8 hours (which felt strangely long, perhaps due to my lack of having worked any of the other days that week). When I got home, I made sure to get all my camping gear ready to leave early the next day for Yellowstone, and then I headed out to a big 24th of July Eve party that featured a fireworks show that probably ran continuously for around 10 minutes.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Week o' Vacationing 2009: Day 6

Didn't take my camera on Day 6, so no photos. You'll just have picture it all in your mind.

After two full days playing around Park City, on Wednesday, we headed down into the valley to spend a day at Raging Waters, a place that once held great mystique in my mind. In middle school, we had an after school Science Club whose main draw was that at the end of the year, if you'd been to enough meetings, you got a trip to Raging Waters. I know at least one of the years we went, it was pouring rain the entire time, so not the best, but it was probably better than being at school, right?

Anyway, as an adult, Raging Waters still has some appeal, and it was fun to go with the family. We spent some good time in the Lazy River, and hitting up the slides. I tried my best to reapply sunscreen liberally, and managed to only get mildly burned in some spots on my back that both I and those I drafted to "get my back" managed to miss.

Mom was nice enough to make a Wendy's run to pick us up some lunch, and after working 2/3 of the day, my dad showed up for the last part of our fun.

I had to work Thursday, so after we were finished at the water park, I bid my farewells and headed home, for my first night of sleep in my own bed in nearly a week. This concluded my 2nd vacation of the week, but it was not the last. One more travelogue yet to come!